British Character Actors No.7: Irene Handl
‘Allo ducks!’ Not much of a catchphrase, really, but you can hear her say it. Irene Handl played charladies and spinsters, and was never young; she didn’t take to the stage until she was 36. The daughter of a wealthy Austrian banker and an aristocraric Frenchwoman, born in Maida Vale, she wasn’t common at all, but often played the part. She wrote two novels, ‘The Sioux’ in 1965 and ‘The Gold Tipped Phitzer’ in 1966. Both books were noted for their originality and intricate literary style, and went on to become bestsellers.
She was in ‘The Italian Job’ (the good version) and ‘Brief Encounter’ – look for her playing in the cinema and the restaurant – and her final film was the frankly rubbish ‘Absolute Beginners’. In ‘Smashing Time’ she played Mrs Gimble (all the characters are named from ‘Jabberwocky’) and runs a secondhand clothes shop. ‘You have to watch out for them Mods,’ she complains, ‘turn your back for a second and a nice bit of skunk vanishes up their knickers.’
I interviewed her in the seventies in her flat off the Edgware Road, and found her wonderful company. Her dog Beulah often appeared in films with her.